Covers the period:
2017-01-01 00:00:00 ..
2017-05-25 10:11:55 UTC
(SPIDs: [586..702]) --martyb
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Ahead of the US president's visit to Saudi Arabia, a series of multi-billion-dollar arms deals have been outlined. The previous US administration suspended some supplies because of human rights concerns.
When President Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he will lay out his vision for a new regional security architecture White House officials call an “Arab NATO,” to guide the fight against terrorism and push back against Iran. As a cornerstone of the plan, Trump will also announce one of the largest arms-sales deals in history.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have been conducting extensive negotiations, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussions began shortly after the presidential election, when Mohammed, known in Washington as “MBS,” sent a delegation to meet with Kushner and other Trump officials at Trump Tower.
After years of disillusionment with the Obama administration, the Saudi leadership was eager to do business. “They were willing to make a bet on Trump and on America,” a senior White House official said.
[...] The most concrete part of the idea is a mammoth U.S. arms package for Saudi Arabia that Trump will also announce in Riyadh. Final details are still being worked out, but officials said the package will include between $98 billion and $128 billion in arms sales. Over 10 years, total sales could reach $350 billion.
The sales include huge upgrades for the Saudi army and navy to include Littoral Combat Ships, THAAD missile defense systems, armored personnel carriers, missiles, bombs and munitions, officials said. Some of the production and assembly could be located in Saudi Arabia, boosting MBS’s project to build a Saudi domestic defense industrial capability. But most of the items would be built by American defense contractors.
US Bans Tablets and Laptops on Flights From Eight Muslim-Majority Countries
Missle Attack from Yemen Targets US Navy Destroyer, Saudi Air Base
U.S. Senate and House Override President Obama's 9/11 Bill Veto
President Obama to Veto Bill Allowing September 11 Victims to Sue Saudi Arabia
Secret 9/11 Commission Report Pages Released
The UK Government Has Finally Admitted We're at War in Yemen
9/11 Commission Member: Saudi Officials Supported Hijackers
Saudi Arabia Threatens to Sell $750 Billion in US Assets If 9/11 Bill Passes
Saudi - Iranian Tension Escalates
Follow the Money: From Paris to ISIS to Paris
Another day, another record broken.
The debt held by US households has surpassed its pre-2008 record, several financial outlets note. A peculiar spotlight in the associated numbers falls on student loans, where delinquencies are multiple times higher than for other debt types: 10 percent is the norm.
That's some pretty troubling news for the economy [and wider society], notes Rana Foroohar at sister outlet the Financial Times. First off, there's the association between the rise in student debt, and a decrease in home ownership for young people. This connection is exacerbated by them millennials increasingly turning towards income-based repayment programmes, which spread out the debt over more years.
Secondly, the level of student debt delinquencies ain't changing: the 10 percent figure is a near-constant over the past 4-5 years. People who've ever had a delinquency -- even if they recover -- have a much lower rate of home ownership at age 30 as compared to their non-defaulted compatriots. Not having a home means not filling it with stuff, and filling with stuff is kinda what the economy is based on.
Then, thirdly, it's not only students that are hit by student debt: increasingly, their parents are taking on debt too, to help out. Fuel for that debt sandwich is something peculiar: the rate of inflation in college admission costs is three times higher than the consumer price index. Must be that college professors wages have increased a lot, then.
Given that boomers and their millennial offspring are the two largest voting blocks in the US, a snappy future president-elect might consider raising the issue a bit.
Scientists, including New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, met in Houston on April 24th to discuss the possibility of a Pluto orbiter mission. The mission would likely cost $1-2 billion, compared to around $700 million for New Horizons and $467 million for the Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres. A launch date in the late 2020s is possible, with a 2030 launch coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Pluto's discovery:
[A] Pluto orbiter mission is a long way from becoming reality, Stern stressed. He said he and his fellow researchers aim to mature the concept in time for it to be considered during the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey, a U.S. National Research Council effort that sets exploration priorities for NASA every 10 years. The next decadal survey will start in 2020, finish in 2022 and be published in 2023, Stern said.
Using the Space Launch System (SLS) could reduce travel time compared to the nine-and-half-year journey of New Horizons, but braking would be required to orbit the Pluto-Charon system, increasing the total travel time back to around seven to nine years. Other missions being considered include flybys of more distant Kuiper Belt dwarf planets (Eris, Sedna, etc.) and exploration of Neptune's moons Triton and Nereid, which are likely captured Kuiper Belt Objects. Triton has about a 14% larger radius and 64% more mass than Pluto. Voyager 2 observed 40% of Triton's surface in 1989.
AMD has announced the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition, a high-end GPU based on a new architecture (Vega 1) which will launch in June.
Unlike some other recent AMD GPUs such as the Radeon Fury X, the Radeon Vega card has half precision compute capability (FP16 operations) that is twice as fast as single precision compute. AMD is advertising 13 TFLOPS single precision, 26 TFLOPS double precision for the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition.
The GPU includes 16 GB of High Bandwidth Memory 2.0 VRAM. The per-pin memory clock is up to around 1.88 Gbps, but total memory bandwidth is slightly lower than the Radeon Fury X, due to the memory bus being cut to 2048-bit from 4096-bit. However, the Fury X included only 4 GB of HBM1. The new card could include four stacks with 4 GB each, or it could be the first product to include 8 GB stacks of High Bandwidth Memory, a capacity which has not been sold by Samsung or SK Hynix to date.
The new GPU is aimed at professional/workstation users rather than gamers:
As important as the Vega hardware itself is, for AMD the target market for the hardware is equally important if not more. Vega's the first new high-end GPU from the company in two years, and it comes at a time when GPU sales are booming. Advances in machine learning have made GPUs the hottest computational peripheral since the x87 floating point co-processor, and unfortunately for AMD, they've largely missed the boat on this. Competitor NVIDIA has vastly grown their datacenter business over just the last year on the back of machine learning, thanks in large part to the task-optimized capabilities of the Pascal architecture. And most importantly of all, these machine learning accelerators have been highly profitable, fetching high margins even when the cards are readily available.
For AMD then, Vega is their chance to finally break into the machine learning market in a big way. The GPU isn't just a high-end competitor, but it offers high performance FP16 and INT8 modes that earlier AMD GPU architectures lacked, and those modes are in turn immensely beneficial to machine learning performance. As a result, for the Vega Frontier Edition launch, AMD is taking a page from the NVIDIA playbook: rather than starting off the Vega generation with consumer cards, they're going to launch with professional cards for the workstation market.
To be sure, the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition is not officially branded as a Pro or WX series card. But in terms of AMD's target market, it's unambiguously a professional card. The product page is hosted on the pro graphics section of AMD's website, the marketing material is all about professional uses, and AMD even goes so far as to tell gamers to hold off for cheaper gaming cards later on in their official blog post. Consequently the Vega FE is about the closest analogue AMD has to NVIDIA's Titan series cards, which although are gaming capable, in the last generation they have become almost exclusively professional focused.
Germany recently broke its record for renewable energy generation by having 85 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources over the last weekend of April. On April 30, the bulk of electricity consume came from a mix of solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power. The record breaking clean energy was thanks to breezy and sunny weather in the north and warm weather in the south, providing plenty of sunlight and wind.
"Most of Germany's coal-fired power stations were not even operating on Sunday, April 30th, with renewable sources accounting for 85 per cent of electricity across the country," said Patrick Graichen of Agora Energiewende Initiative. "Nuclear power sources, which are planned to be completely phased out by 2022, were also severely reduced."
The country's Energiewende program aims to see a clean energy revolution by 2050. Graichen says that the tide will really start to turn by 2030 when many of the investments made by Germany since 2010 will come to fruition and majority or even totally renewable-powered days will become the norm.
Will producing its energy locally confer a strategic economic advantage on Germany, or is it just for bragging rights?
A monstrously huge creature that washed ashore on a remote Indonesian beach, oozing a mysterious red fluid, is probably a baleen whale in an advanced state of decomposition, experts said.
The Jakarta Globe calls the massive, rotting body a giant squid, and reports that a resident of Seram Island discovered the 49-foot dead creature on Tuesday.
But three marine experts told HuffPost that the animal actually appears to be some sort of baleen whale.
Additional coverage: Jakarta Globe (earlier story), Tech Times, RT (sponsored by Russian government), Jakarta Globe, Voice of America (U.S. government), USA Today, Mashable, news.com.au (News Corp), The Washington Post
(Possibly?) Related story:
Is that Dress White and Gold or Blue and Black?
Among its orders issued on Monday, the Supreme Court did something usually unremarkable: it summarily refused to hear an appeal without comment. Most appeal requests are denied by SCOTUS, but docket 16-984 was unusual in several respects. For one, it involved a 13-year-old boy arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail for making fake burping noises in gym class. But recently it also became a notable dissent by recently appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch from when he had served on a Federal Circuit Court.
The facts of the case were straightforward. As summarized in the introduction to the petition for appeal:
Thirteen-year-old F.M. burped in gym class, laughed, and, after the teacher removed him from the classroom, he leaned back into the classroom while sitting in the hall. Because these acts divided the teacher's attention, Officer Arthur Acosta ("Officer Acosta") handcuffed F.M., transported him to the local juvenile detention center, and charged him with Interference with the Educational Process, N.M.S.A. 1978, § 30-20-13(D) ("Section 30-20-13(D)"). Officer Acosta handcuffed and transported F.M. even though F.M. was compliant at the time he arrested him and there was no state interest in transporting him.
Ultimately, the case ended up in the hands of a federal Tenth Circuit Court, which found in a 2-1 ruling that the policeman's qualified immunity was sufficient to summarily dismiss any action against him. Gorsuch, however, found this absurd and began his dissent:
If a seventh grader starts trading fake burps for laughs in gym class, what's a teacher to do? Order extra laps? Detention? A trip to the principal's office? Maybe. But then again, maybe that's too old school. Maybe today you call a police officer. And maybe today the officer decides that, instead of just escorting the now compliant thirteen year old to the principal's office, an arrest would be a better idea. So out come the handcuffs and off goes the child to juvenile detention. My colleagues suggest the law permits exactly this option and they offer ninety-four pages explaining why they think that's so. Respectfully, I remain unpersuaded.
In his concise 4-page dissent, Gorsuch skewered the majority's convoluted reasoning, which seemed to spend much of its 94 pages constructing a careful path circumventing a New Mexico appellate court ruling that "interference with the educational process" required a "substantial, more physical invasion" of a school's operations. On this basis, Gorsuch concluded that the statute in question (which used identical language to the statute in the previous court case regarding colleges) obviously did not intend to criminalize minor "noises or diversions." He noted several other court cases from other states dealing with similar issues that concluded the same thing.
On this basis, he wrote that a "reasonable officer" in New Mexico should have known better.
But why did the Circuit Court come down so harshly and construct such convoluted reasoning just to let a police officer off the hook? The answer may be in the quiet sea-change in SCOTUS jurisprudence that seeks to limit almost all challenges to the "qualified immunity" given to police officers. Despite the fact that it doesn't appear in any federal statute, "qualified immunity" became de facto law after the 1982 Supreme Court ruling in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, which interpreted 42 U.S. Code § 1983 "Civil action for deprivation of rights" extremely narrowly. Over the years, this qualified immunity has expanded to the point that almost any police action -- no matter how unconstitutional or egregious -- is immune to civil action.
One recent illustrative case is SCOTUS's 2014 ruling in Plumhoff v. Rickard. After a routine traffic stop for a broken headlight, a car sped off resulting in a high-speed chase. After the car was cornered by a police patrol car, the police fired 15 shots into the car at close range, killing the driver and passenger and causing the vehicle to crash into a nearby house. SCOTUS reversed the appellate court's decision unanimously, determining that qualified immunity was still in effect. It should be noted that the doctrine of "qualified immunity" does not merely find officers non-liable for their actions; it necessitates a summary dismissal of any claims against them, preventing any actual consideration of fact in a lawsuit.
But what does this have to do with the "burping teen"? As argued in a recent Minnesota Law Review article, the Supreme Court has not only expanded its "qualified immunity" exceptions, but it has attempted to stamp out any possible dissent among lower courts. Rather than the standard jurisprudence concept of relying on citation of precedent, SCOTUS has instead chosen to quietly expand this doctrine (which it itself created in 1983), "describing it in increasingly generous terms and inexplicably adding qualifiers to precedent that then take on a life of their own." During the past 15 years, the Court has ruled in favor of the "qualified immunity" in 16 of 18 cases it chose to take. And in 6 of these cases it chose summary reversals of Circuit Court decisions, with no allowance for oral argument or briefing. (As the law review article notes, that represents about 1 of every 7 summary decisions in recent years.)
This tendency to not only reverse Circuit Court decisions (often unanimously), but often without even allowing argument, shows an unusual trend in SCOTUS jurisprudence. Even more remarkable is that through a series of rulings, SCOTUS has effectively short-circuited the process of appeals by insisting that (1) "qualified immunity" can only be denied in cases where officers violate "clearly established law," but (2) effectively limiting the determination of "clearly established law" to SCOTUS itself. Hence, if your case is not basically identical to the circumstances of a previous successful challenge to "qualified immunity" litigated by SCOTUS, lower courts are now implicitly instructed to grant immunity no matter what.
Indeed, earlier this year Bloomberg reported a story with the headline "Supreme Court Has Had Enough with Police Suits," after the most recent summary reversal -- just because the facts were "unique":
The justices made it clear that they wanted to send a message. [...] And the opinion referred to several occasions "in the last five years" in which the Supreme Court has reversed lower courts on the qualified immunity issue. There's little doubt of the message to the lower courts: The Supreme Court wants fewer lawsuits against police to go forward.
In an era where police misconduct seems to be getting more attention all the time, why are we not hearing more reporting about this quiet revolution in Supreme Court jurisprudence that has effectively made it impossible to make police accountable for their actions?
Returning to our "burping boy" case, perhaps we can read Gorsuch's dissent in a new light. Were the Circuit Court judges simply trying to find a way to grant immunity just to avoid another smackdown by SCOTUS? In his conclusion, Gorsuch comes close to accusing his colleagues of manufacturing an argument that they don't actually believe is just: "Indeed, a judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels. So it is I admire my colleagues today, for no doubt they reach a result they dislike but believe the law demands..." He then goes on to say that he doesn't believe the law is "quite as much of a[n] ass as they do."
Because of his prior involvement with the case, Gorsuch was forced to recuse himself from consideration of the SCOTUS appeal. But if his dissent was sincere, maybe his voice will remain one dissenting voice among the otherwise unanimous Supreme Court justices who now allow for almost no possibility of personal culpability for police negligence, incompetence, or abuse.
For the first time in the history of quantum mechanics, scientists have been able to transmit a black and white image without having to send any physical particles. The phenomenon can be explained using the Zeno effect, the same effect that explains that movement itself is impossible.
The journal article is in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1614560114)
Wikipedia has an article about the quantum Zeno effect.
Physicists Break Distance Record for Quantum Teleportation
First Covert Communication System with Lasers
Long-Range Secure Quantum Communication System Developed
China's "Quantum-Enabled Satellite" Launches
How to Outwit Noise in Quantum Communication
Today, at the Google I/O keynote, the Android team announced first-class support for Kotlin.
[...] Starting now, Android Studio 3.0 ships with Kotlin out of the box [...]
[Ed. Note: For the unaware: Kotlin.]
Shares of AMD rose 11.6% on Tuesday as Fudzilla reported that Intel would license graphics technologies from AMD after a similar deal with Nvidia expired two months earlier. The deal has not been confirmed.
On the other hand, AMD's 16-core "Threadripper" enthusiast/HEDT CPUs have been confirmed:
With one of the gnarliest CPU codenames we've ever seen, the Threadripper multicore monsters will go head to head with Intel's Broadwell-E and upcoming Skylake-E High-End Desktop (HEDT) CPUs alongside a new motherboard platform that promises expanded memory support and I/O bandwidth. That's likely to take the form of quad-channel RAM and more PCIe lanes, similar to Intel's X99 platform, but AMD is saving further details for its press conference at Computex at the end of May.
AMD's 32-core "Naples" server chips are now known as... "Epyc".
You have seen the launch of 4, 6, and 8-core AMD Ryzen parts. How do you feel about 10, 12, 14, and 16 cores (prices unknown, likely $1,000 or more for 16 cores)?
Coating chimney flues and diesel exhaust pipes, black carbon leaves a sooty footprint on Earth. But how to track its travel through the atmosphere?
Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a unique computational tagging technique to detect the influence of local vs. non-local sources of soot on China's regional air quality. They used this technique to determine how much each soot source—local or remote—contributed to atmospheric warming over China. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics published the research.
[...] In regions of China with strong black carbon emissions—for example, the north, south, and northeast—researchers found that local sources predominantly contributed to near-surface black carbon concentrations. Scientists also discovered that non-local sources more strongly influenced black carbon over central and western China. During the winter haze season, more than 50 percent of near-surface black carbon in China originated from pollution in north China, which contributed more than 90 percent to local black carbon and a substantial amount to south, southwest, and central-west China. Overall, local sources accounted for 65 percent of black carbon's atmospheric heating over China, while outside sources contributed 35 percent.
The study also showed that China's soot doesn't stay within its borders. Air pollution from China, via transport over the Pacific Ocean, accounted for 8 percent of black carbon concentration and 29 percent of the total air column load of black carbon in the Western United States in spring.
Air pollution in China doesn't come from industrial complexes in Siberia?
Humans treat 'inferred' visual objects generated by the brain as more reliable than external images from the real world, according to new research published in eLife.
The study, from the University of Osnabrück, Germany, reveals that when choosing between two identical visual objects -- one generated internally based on information from the blind spot and an external one -- we are surprisingly likely to show a bias towards the internal information.
To make sense of the world, humans and animals need to combine information from multiple sources. This is usually done according to how reliable each piece of information is. For example, to know when to cross the street, we usually rely more on what we see than what we hear -- but this can change on a foggy day.
"In such situations with the blind spot, the brain 'fills in' the missing information from its surroundings, resulting in no apparent difference in what we see," says senior author Professor Peter König, from the University of Osnabrück's Institute of Cognitive Science. "While this fill-in is normally accurate enough, it is mostly unreliable because no actual information from the real world ever reaches the brain. We wanted to find out if we typically handle this filled-in information differently to real, direct sensory information, or whether we treat it as equal."
[N]ew models increasingly suggest that the closest Earth-like planet to our solar system could be habitable. Researchers first started playing a bit of "fantasy exoplanet" with the rocky world—dubbed Proxima b—last year after scientists discovered it orbiting our nearest neighbor star, Proxima Centauri. With knowledge only of the luminosity of the star (1/600 that of the sun), the mass of the planet (1.3 times that of Earth), and the length of its orbit (11.2 days), the team was able to predict that, with a variety of possible atmospheres, it would be possible for Proxima b to harbor liquid water on its surface.
Now, another team has upped the level of detail by taking a climate model designed for Earth—the Unified Model developed by the United Kingdom's Met Office—and pasted it onto Proxima b.
[...] As the team reports today in Astronomy & Astrophysics, it found an even wider range of circumstances in which Proxima b could have liquid water than the earlier study. The fact that the two very different models agree so closely is "somewhat remarkable," the team writes.
Source: Daniel Clery at sciencemag.org
As corporations, citizens and governments continue to urge the Trump administration to stick with the Paris Climate Agreement, a new analysis is undercutting one of the climate naysayers primary objections:
Those, at least, are the findings from Climate Action Tracker which suggest that scaling back of coal consumption in both countries is likely to be enough to 'cancel out' the expected slowing down of progress by the United States under President Trump. India, for example, had pledged to lower the emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The new analysis suggests they will leap past that mark to a 42 to 45 percent cut in emissions intensity by 2030.
Projects like these are steadily helping people with prostheses to move more naturally and easily than ever before. But what few people appreciate is just how far back this field actually goes.
If you were thinking a couple of hundred years, or maybe since the medieval era, you wouldn't even be close. Amputations and prostheses date back to ancient times, and saw advances that were heralded as no less life-changing then as they are today. It's a fascinating story of gods, gladiators and the limits of human endurance that adds a whole other dimension to understanding this discipline.
[...] Whether survivors in the ancient era were injured in battle by a blade, spear or missile, or in camp by frostbite or trench foot, their arms, legs and extremities were incredibly vulnerable. In Ancient Greece, they benefited from simple surgical amputations as far back as the late fifth or early fourth century BC. The Hippocratic treatise On Joints attests to rudimentary amputations of fingers, toes, hands and feet, but cautions against amputating an entire arm or leg.
Around the same time, orthopaedic surgery had refined to the point that prostheses were starting to become available as alternatives to staffs, sticks and crutches. We see this in the account of the Graeco-Persian War (499-449BC) by the historian Herodotus, for instance. Herodotus recounts how the Persian diviner Hegesistratus, when imprisoned by the Spartans, amputated part of his own foot to escape his shackles, then procured a wooden replacement.
Egypt was using similar technology around the same period. Prosthetic toes made from wood or layers of fibre known as cartonnage have been recovered from burial sites, such as the one from a mummy near Luxor pictured below. They show signs of wear and tear, indicating that they were functional rather than purely cosmetic.
Technological, scientific, and medical progress are not as linear as we suppose.